Remember that adage, “You’re as young as you feel”? Well, studies show that whoever coined this popular phrase was on to something.
It turns out that your moods, feelings, and thoughts about aging do impact your health, ranging from the sharpness of your memory and ability to stay agile to how well you recover from illness and even how long you live.
Let’s look at the growing body of research that suggests your mind has more control over how you age than you realize…
The evidence is mounting… your mindset about aging matters to the way you age.
A study published in The Journal of Gerontology suggests that negative attitudes towards aging cause people to react more negatively toward common daily stressors, and as a result, experience negative effects to their health.1
Negative Nellies Have More Hospitalizations
The researchers found that these negative Nellies were 50 percent more likely to experience a stressful medical experience, such as hospitalization for illness.
And what about their more optimistic peers?
The study authors state that the optimists had “higher levels of life satisfaction, better self-rated health, improved social networks, and better well-being.” This “health” includes everything from memory strength and joint comfort and flexibility to heart health and blood sugar levels.
Aging Optimists Live A Lot Longer
There’s also evidence that those with positive self-perceptions about aging lived on average 7.5 years longer than the people who were doom-and-gloom about the march of time.2 In fact, those with a less negative aging mindset are more likely to be active and resilient and to have a stronger will to live.
Of course, sometimes it’s hard to feel optimistic about getting older. For one thing, many of our beliefs about aging are unconscious and deeply rooted. However, experts say we can flip the script with more positive views.
“All of us have an extraordinary opportunity to rethink what it means to grow old,” writes Becca Levy, in her book Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs About Aging Determine How Long and Well You Live.
Ready to reframe your thoughts on aging?
Five Ways to Reset Your Mindset
- Control what you can. Shift your mindset and know that some things may be out of your control (like genetics), but others are in your control. For instance, a healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise, nutritious food, and stress management practices not only encourage good health but have been clinically shown to counteract bad genes, especially when it comes to illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.
- Make a self-care list to help you remain upbeat. What are the ten non-negotiable items that keep you at your best each day? Jot them down and post in a prominent place. Some things to include might be exercise, hydration, connecting with a friend, a short meditation or prayer time, spending time with your family, and the list goes on. Chances are your list will evolve depending on what’s going on in your life but try to commit to each list for at least a month to stay consistent and disciplined, suggests Dick Hartman, in his book Ease Into Aging: The Guide.
- Live in the present. For some it seems that each year brings another regret; things you could have done differently over the course of your life. Try not to live in the past. Acknowledge and deal with the issue, but find a way to move on, author Dick Hartman suggests. Living in the now offers significant mental health benefits. In fact, research shows that mindfulness, or staying in the present moment, can reduce depression due to its ability to enhance your connection with the people and events going on around you.3
- Foster intergenerational friendships. It makes sense that the bulk of our friendships are with people within a couple of years of our own age. Author Becca Levy suggests finding older role models as a way of encouraging positive beliefs about the impact of age. “Think about ways to get to know people of other ages through a dance class, a book club, or a political group. Seeing older people in action often allows us to dispel negative age beliefs.”
- Practice gratitude. There’s a mountain of research linking gratitude with positive health benefits. For older people this is especially important. Keep a journal and write down things you’re grateful for daily. They can be as small as being grateful for the hot water in your morning shower or the very fact that you are ambulatory and still breathing. Or perhaps add what you’re thankful for to your morning meditation or evening prayers.4
I think the takeaway from this new research is simple: Positivity in life—and especially surrounding how you age– translates into aging more gracefully. Start today.